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No anti-public education surprises here

Indiana's public school teachers didn't seem to notice when Republicans nominated a candidate for governor in 2004 who had gone on record to criticize their schools.

"There is no reason even debating the abysmal, atrocious failure of the public school monopoly anymore," Eli Lilly executive Mitch Daniels told TV host Mike Pence in 1997. "I'm an advocate and a personal participant in a multiple of causes to help at least the few kids we can to find schools where there is some safety, some values, some discipline, and some standards. And I hope the schools will come along, but I'm not prepared to wait long."

The teachers stood silently when candidate Daniels was elected and, on his second day in office, stripped state employees of collective bargaining rights.

Two weeks later, the new governor delivered his first State of the State address and teachers didn't object when he proclaimed: "We have doubled the amount of money spent per child with scant improvement in the only thing that matters, the readiness of those children. If money were the answer, this would no longer be a problem."

Teachers said nothing when Gov. Daniels introduced Tony Bennett to the 2008 Whitley County Lincoln Day Dinner as likely the next superintendent of public instruction – even though Suellen Reed, the four-term incumbent and loyal GOP representative, hadn't yet announced she wasn't seeking reelection.

Most teachers didn't seem to notice when Bennett, with less than a year of experience running the Greater Clark County Schools, launched a campaign generously supported by out-of-state, pro-voucher businessmen like Patrick Byrne, the CEO of Overstock.com

The teachers didn't rally to support Richard Wood, with 19 years of experience leading Tippecanoe School Corp. and experience as a charter member of Indiana's Education Roundtable.

There were few objections from teachers as the governor filled the State Board of Education with like-minded representatives and turned the Roundtable from a collaborative and progressive partnership of business representatives and educators into a rubber stamp.

There was little enthusiasm from teachers to block the governor's re-election bid, even though he said education "reform" would be the primary aim of his second term.

The teachers didn't object when the governor dismissed calls for full-day kindergarten as something the state couldn't afford and ignored solid economic research backing the value of preschool – leaving Indiana as one of just 10 states devoting no money to early childhood education. Nor when he signed the law establishing the state's first voucher program did they object.

Teachers had another chance to step up in November, when they could have supported a Democratic majority in the Indiana House and ensured the pro-charter, pro-voucher agenda would be held in check. Instead, the GOP won a nearly unstoppable majority in the House.

Now, with multiple bills targeting Indiana public education, including one to create the nation's largest voucher program, public school teachers seem to be showing some signs of life. Fort Wayne-area teachers will gather at 5 p.m. Thursday at Northrop High School for a rally.

"Forty-plus education bills in all are on this train to destroy your profession," an event poster illustrated with a freight train reads.

But it may be too late. The newly elected House Majority includes first-year representatives demonstrating unquestioning allegiance to caucus leaders. Tea Party sympathizers have weighed in to support the so-called reform.

When critics cite the power of the teacher unions, one has to wonder, "Where has it been?"

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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